When the processor needs to read from or write to a location in main memory, it first checks whether a copy of that data is in the cache. If so, the processor immediately reads from or writes to the cache, which is much faster than reading from or writing to main memory.

Most modern desktop and server CPUs have at least three independent caches: an instruction cache to speed up executable instruction fetch, a data cache to speed up data fetch and store, and a translation lookaside buffer (TLB) used to speed up virtual-to-physical address translation for both executable instructions and data. The data cache is usually organized as a hierarchy of more cache levels (L1, L2, etc.; see Multi-level caches).

Cache Entries

Data is transferred between memory and cache in blocks of fixed size, called cache lines. When a cache line is copied from memory into the cache, a cache entry is created. The cache entry will include the copied data as well as the requested memory location (now called a tag).

When the processor needs to read or write a location in main memory, it first checks for a corresponding entry in the cache. The cache checks for the contents of the requested memory location in any cache lines that might contain that address. If the processor finds that the memory location is in the cache, a cache hit has occurred (otherwise, a cache miss). In the case of:

  • a cache hit, the processor immediately reads or writes the data in the cache line.
  • a cache miss, the cache allocates a new entry, and copies in data from main memory. Then, the request is fulfilled from the contents of the cache.

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